Degree Programs


The Bard Graduate Center: Decorative Arts, Design History, Material Culture is a graduate institute of Bard College that opened in New York City in 1993. Today the BGC offers two programs of study, one leading to a master of arts degree and the other to a doctor of philosophy degree. Students in these programs can select from a wide array of courses dealing with various aspects of the cultural history of the material world.

Students in the MA and PhD programs take the same courses, although their programs are articulated in different ways. The curric­ulum for the MA degree includes a number of required courses, tutorials, independent studies, travel, and internships in fields chosen by the student in consultation with a faculty adviser.

Students are otherwise free to construct their own program of study (with their adviser’s help). The BGC has areas of special strength—in New York and American Material Culture; History and Theory of Museums; Modern Design History; Early Modern Europe; Comparative Medieval Material Culture (China, Islam, Europe); and Archaeology, Anthropology, and Material Culture. But specialization in one of these areas is neither required nor necessarily encouraged for MA students. Doctoral candidates, by contrast, may wish to con­centrate more and work in close collaboration with faculty advisers to craft a slate of electives in preparation for qualifying examinations and the dissertation.

The hands-on examination of objects is an essential feature of study at the BGC. Incorporated into the first-year Survey of the Decorative Arts, Design History, and Material Culture have been our “Materials Days,” events that focus on the making of things so that students can experience materiality from the maker’s perspective. In the past, students have made sugar sculptures for the dining table, spent a day visiting 17th-century archaeological digs in Brooklyn, making paper, throwing pots, and blowing glass. 

The Focus Gallery project builds on this hands-on perspective. As a collaborative venture between faculty and students, who work together to devise, research, and design a small argument-driven exhibition, the Focus Gallery allows students to get real experience in handling objects, researching and writing about them, as well as thinking about how best to display them. We aim to bring ideas developed in the classroom to the public space of our exhibition gallery. 

Our exhibition program allows students to learn about a range of artifacts and meanings and to better understand how exhibitions and galleries function. “Scholars Days” in the gallery bring together professors, curators, and connoisseurs in an informal but rigorous context and thus serve as a model for the kind of intellectual profile we believe in. In addition to what we offer in-house, students have access to collections and curators at a variety of museums in the New York metropolitan area, including the Brooklyn Museum, the New-York Historical Society, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Frick Collection, the New York Public Library, the American Museum of Natural History, the Hispanic Society of America, and Historic Hudson Valley. Auction houses, conservation studios, and commercial galleries also provide students with direct contact with objects.

Advising is an important part of the BGC’s graduate training. Upon admission, every student is assigned a faculty adviser who works closely with him or her, helping to plan a course of study, offering aca­demic counseling, guiding the student toward professional activity and visibility, and, in a variety of ways, supporting and encouraging the student’s attainment of intellectual and vocational goals. In addition, each student has a specialist supervisor for his or her MA Qualifying Paper or PhD dissertation.

In addition to formal classes, the BGC runs a series of evening colloquia. By bringing in scholars from across the world of learning, the BGC ensures that our students’ horizons are as broad as possible. Regular evening seminars, which are open to the academic public, serve as foci for the BGC’s areas of strength. In addition, there are speakers affiliated with current exhibitions and endowed lecture series featuring a regular sequence of speakers on 18th- and 19th-century France, on Islamic art and material culture, and on the history of glass. A monthly faculty work-in-progress seminar helps create and further house discourse. Symposia build on these interests and connect to the wider scholarly world while at the same time representing the apex of a vertically integrated program that begins in the classroom, continues through the seminar, and cul­minates, via the symposium, in a publication.

Graduates of the BGC’s degree programs are prepared for careers or career advancement in academia, museums, historic houses, galleries, auction houses, corporate art management, and government agencies, as well as in the fields of research, consulting, publishing, and commu­nications. Some recent BGC graduates are holding positions as curators at the Textile Museum in Washington, DC; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the New-York Historical Society; the National Gallery of Art; The Metropolitan Museum of Art; the Corcoran Gallery of Art; the Art Institute of Chicago; the Detroit Institute of Arts; Yale University Art Gallery; the Museum of Modern Art; the Museum of Arts and Design; the Allentown Art Museum; and Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum.

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